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Perspective

Couples' fighting words: property insurance

Forget about affairs. Now the secret kept from a partner is the status of the homeowner policy.

By KATHLEEN OCHSHORN
Published February 25, 2007


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When I picked up the receiver I heard that distinctive "beep beep beep" of a voice mail alert. It was from Citizens Property Insurance, you know, the insurer of last resort.

They wanted to know whether we'd made a decision on the homeowner's policy, the one they were offering to replace the policy that Travelers had canceled. Reasonable enough, except I didn't know our policy had been canceled.

My husband had been keeping this news from me. He writes the checks, something I'm grateful he does. And he's no fan of insurance, believing we shouldn't pay for things we don't use.

In the back of my mind, I knew I should have been paying more attention, since I had been reading the paper and realized companies were hightailing it out of the state. And things were so bad that people were hoping Tallahassee would come to their aid.

When the notice of cancellation came, I must have been at work. Remarkably, that piece of mail was scurried out of view quickly, not left to linger in that pile of important papers on the dining room table - grocery fliers, toothpaste coupons, fabulous deals for new credit cards and sky miles.

So when I returned the call to the prospective insurer, I learned we had a month to get coverage. I confronted my husband in the kitchen, and he argued for saving the $5,000 for something more useful. Though he admitted knowing about the dilemma for a couple of months, he pointed out that we weren't without insurance - yet. He was fuzzy on whether he had planned to let me know about any of this.

So I told him - full voice - "It's my house, too. We're getting insurance. Are you nuts?"

When I went into work, I regaled my colleague with our domestic drama and she one-upped me. She and her husband had had a heated discussion about insurance in the car coming back from the beach. Her husband threatened to pull over to the side of the road if she didn't let up. When he did pull over, they sank into stunned silence. This sent the Pomeranian into paroxysms in the back seat and he started doing his helicopter imitation, leaping around, alarmed that the crazy humans weren't getting out of the car.

I realized then that all over hurricane vulnerable regions couples were likely engaged in these arguments, since risk aversion is probably not a trait distributed equally among any population.

Soon enough we were in the grip of the insurance industry and it was making demands on us. Our neighbor recommended that we use Laura, an insurance broker who lives on the block behind us.

Since the house had not been inspected since 1979, we were a bit nervous. Suddenly we were seeking approval, hoping to meet the standards Citizens was setting to part us from those $5,000. The young woman inspector checked out the heat pumps, the wiring, the plumbing, the roof, and even went into the attic, where she started coughing. I knew it was funky up there.

"So nothing was wrong?" I asked.

"Just some cat poop in the attic," she noted.

"Oh, that's the possums - or the raccoons. But I think we have the eaves sealed off now."

After the inspection, we had 10 days to secure our insurance. The agent was going to drop by for the check. But she kept missing appointments, and we started calling the agency, begging for someone to come and take our money.

Finally, she stopped by on my husband's birthday, the last day we were covered by the old policy. We all commented on the unseasonably warm weather. And she said she did worry about the rising temperature of the ocean.

She then explained the policy to us again and made a bit of a pitch for flood coverage. We sat stiffly at the dining room table as she described the various ways water can enter a house, pointing to a nearby window. But we didn't opt for the extra coverage since we're 22 feet above sea level.

As she gathered up her papers to leave, she said, "Well, this is a good policy, but of course it doesn't protect you from a huge storm surge or a tsunami." I chuckled uneasily. The tsunami part was a joke. Right?

Kathleen Ochshorn is a professor of English and writing at the University of Tampa, where she also edits fiction for Tampa Review.

[Last modified February 25, 2007, 06:16:31]


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